Protecting Wild Cat Habitat

by Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P
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Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat
Protecting Wild Cat Habitat

As the name indicates, cloud forests are an ecosystem that by definition has a high level of humidity, frequent cloud cover create an overlay of gray on a palette with tints and flavors from Nearctic and Neotropical realms, here in the Sierra Gorda.  The flora is unique in its diversity, as the spaces in which it grows are unlike any other terrestrial ecosystem.  There are endemic species present as well as species new to science.    

After decades of man-made destruction, less than 1% of Mexico is made up of cloud forests today.  12% Mexico’s flora can be found in these remarkably threatened places, where one in three plant species is endemic.  Thanks to the incessant destruction that our species is doing in establishing pastures and crop lands, and the irresponsible and/ or criminal use of fire, their small surface keeps losing ground.  Climate disruption, a vicious cycle, is creating stronger droughts and higher temperatures which are drying out the moss and the epiphytes (like orchids and bromeliads) and making them kindle.

This year thanks to the help and support from World Land Trust, we had our own firefighting brigade, made up of 10 firefighters.  GESG staff added 6 more firefighters, that together with other brigades, helped control the forest fires that were approaching those cloud forests that we protect.  It is a terrible feeling of desperation and impotence to witness the voraciousness of fire, consuming old oaks all the way up to their canopies.  The bromeliads that serve as an excellent nest for amphibians like tree frogs and salamanders, burned out.  An unthinkable sight as they are some of the plants that are most representative of this ecosystem and usually store water in their leaves.  It is so sad to see a Mexican Porcupine (Coendu mexicanus) and squirrels desperately trying to escape the fire and disappear in smoke.    

These men face the obvious personal risks that hiking over broken limestone, exposed with sharp cracks and holes, razor-like edges of living rock, and the dense smoke that gets in the way everywhere.

We are conscious that with the rising temperatures and the more pronounced dry seasons, fire is the element with the most potential to destroy life, especially in the ecosystems where its evolutional history has been marked by its humidity, and conditions that were so diametrically opposed.  They burn and there are few species adapted to resist the flames and grow back after the fire. 

The better prepared we are, with preventative measures in place, appropriate equipment, and training, the better capable we will be to protect Nature and our communities.

Please join us in our effort.

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The sixth wave of mass extinction is fast and voracious.  However, in December we carried out our first field survey, in one of our reserves, of an endemic species of magnolia recently discovered in 2015 (Magnolia rzedowskiana). This species is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as Endangered (

There is a lack of detailed information about this magnolia species. Our population survey found that there are approximately 1,662 individuals in the reserve.  It also allows us to see how the population structure has changed and will change over time.

When the reserve was newly created, in 1996, the old cloud forest was under heavy anthropologic threats from an authorized program of forest management (legal logging), as well as illegal logging, and foraging by livestock. These activities left the area in severely degradated state. There was no understory and therefore no natural regeneration of the existing species (oaks, cedars, and of course the magnolias).  So, the first priority was to build fences that would keep the neighbors´ livestock out and protect the few magnolias that had survived decades of degradation.  And while a change was evident from the beginning, it was not documented in any way. Now the numbers speak for themselves.

Our team found that approximately 100 “relic” specimens, with diameters of 20 cm or greater have served as ´seed trees,´ giving way to a 1108% rate of natural regeneration.  The majority of the trees measured have heights of 1, 2 and 3 meters and diameters less than 4 cm.  These are the saplings that have grown thanks to effective and timely conservation in the field that has brought a species back from the brink of extinction.

Our work continues…

In order to avoid further reduction in this and the Magnolia pedrazae populations, and prevent the extinction of these species, we have more work to do.  In the future we will conduct a census wherein each individual tree will be georeferenced to allow for the monitoring of their individual growth and health. We will also survey populations of  Magnolia pedrazae, which was also recently scientifically described, and is in danger of extinction,

In our current times, when we are increasingly feeling severe shocks from our human caused climate disruption, this is tremendously good news.  We have shown evidence of the effectiveness of our work in the field, which will help us to secure additional areas for biodiversity conservation.  In the Sierra Gorda, we say NO to extinction. 

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With the arrival of the rainy season, we were able to stop worrying about forest fires and focus our efforts on monitoring and protecting the reserves.  We are working on the maintenance of our fences in the most distant parts of the reserve and interacting with our neighboring landowners.  After an initial shaky start to the rainy season, this September brought abundant rain, ending the dry spell that persisted in 2018 and 2019.  The rivers and streams and waterfalls are following which means fauna in the various reserves have ample access to water.  Vegetation is also recuperating from the long drought.  This is especially evident in the area affected by the great fire of 2019, of the Hoya Verde reserve where we are seeing abundant regeneration of oaks and pines.

New growth can also represent additional combustible material in the next fire season (in 2021) which is why we are planning and coordinating to have a strong unified front with the same members of the firefighting brigade this coming year.  We project having them operational during the 4 most critical months of the dry season.

Fortunately, despite the pandemic, the monitoring and the protection of the reserves have not been interrupted.  This is because in many cases the monitoring is undertaken by individuals, alone, or by a group of park rangers, who can easily maintain a safe distance from one another.

Our hidden cameras caught captures of pumas, pacas, brocket deer, and collared peccary since our last report when we sent images caught on tape of a black bear and a jaguar.

We have the honor of announcing that in one of the reserves we found a healthy and robust population of two species new to science, the cactus Mammillaria rzewdowskiana (with a highly restricted distribution), a true daughter of our limestone mountains, and a new agave, Agave muxii.  It never ceases to amaze us year after year, we keep finding new species in the Sierra Gorda.  We see clearly that our reserves are islands of biodiversity of the highest value.  That we have an enormous responsibility to protect them at all costs.  In the Sierra Gorda, we say NO to the massive wave of extinction that is decimating life on our planet.  We thank you on behalf of this vast voiceless biodiverse community for your support and generosity. 

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At this latitude, spring is the worst and most difficult time of year as it is the dry season.  Climate change effects are evident, like higher than average temperatures, bringing with them a severe delay in rains and consequently a higher risk of forest fires.  A year ago, under similar conditions, there was a large fire in Valle Verde that for almost a month was unstoppable.  Springtime for us can be a scary time. 

For that reason, GESG has been managing and leading inter-institutional work and coordination with all three levels of government so that we are much better prepared than we were last year.  Through a partnership with World Land Trust, for the first time, we have our own brigade to help prevent and fight forest fires.  They are based in Valle Verde and made up of 10 people who are properly-equipped.  They´re all from the region and have previous experience in fire management.  They´ve been tasked with clearing trails and making fire breaks that would help in the case that they should be necessary.  They have repaired an observation tower which gives us an excellent lookout point to monitor much of the area, in addition, they have patrol routes and interact regularly with other property owners in the area.  The only pending item is a course in fire management given by CONAFOR, which has been delayed due to the health contingency of COVID-19.

This brigade can be reinforced, if necessary, with 7 additional members from our team at GESG.   This year, they´ve participated in putting out two fires to date (La Cercada and Los Galvanes Hill).  In addition, in the region, we can count on the Federal Government which has 3 brigades (CONANP, CONAFOR) and the State Government of Queretaro (SEDEA) and the Directorates of Civil Protection of City Councils and Honorable Volunteer Fire Brigades in the region and the state.  Even though the risk is always latent, we are without a doubt better prepared to combat fires in the region and better able to protect the reserves. 

On the other hand, we had an extraordinary capture on our wildlife camera, for the third time we caught a black bear on tape.  This is only the third such registry of this endangered species in Central Mexico in the last 3 years.  In footage from the same camera, we also saw a jaguar and puma.  For there to be three predators in the same area coexisting, speaks to the health of the forests in this zone.  It is an honor for us to share with you this event:


Apart from that, our park rangers have had a presence in all of the reserves with their rounds and reinforcing fences.  We´re in the process of buying another property to add to the Cerro Prieto reserve an additional 100 hectares, with the support of World Land Trust.  WLT partnered with the famous Finnish band, Nightwish, to show their support for biodiversity conservation in the Sierra Gorda mountains through this spectacular video:


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Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda, Ranger Miguel F.
Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda, Ranger Miguel F.

On this occasion we want to share the experience from the last surveillance tour to one of the private reserves that we guard in this special territory that is the Sierra Gorda. Located in the great mountain range that runs east of the Sierra Gorda from south to north, it turns out to be unique for its ecosystems and species that live there.

To get there requires travelling for an hour of paved road, then a dirt road that is only passable in a 4x4 vehicle and where the driver's expertise is indispensable. Even if it's a jeep, it's easy to hit the rocks and damage the vehicle or get into one of the ditches that the rain has formed. A chainsaw is also necessary, because the wind knocks down trees and or it is not possible to be reached or one is trapped on the return if in that period an oak fell, which happened to us on one occasion. And the inseparable machete, to keep the bushes and branches trimmed and uncover the trail for future monitoring. This minimum maintenance is a recurring activity and takes up time on each tour.

After about 45 minutes, you arrive at the point where you leave the vehicle and start a long walk along a path that is used regularly by pumas and jaguars, to the shelter of old oaks and white cedars that are dripping wet from the fog that enveloped everything that morning. “The trail” is barely visible, as we just keep it open to minimize the disturbance and to deter other people from following it. In short, it is easy to get lost in that green sea, and in order to get oriented in the blurring fog, we use larger trees as a point of reference. In most visits it is the rule to find the territorial marks of pumas or jaguars on the trail, which they do with their back claws when “scratching” on the ground-litter and where they also defecate or urinate. That visit was no exception and I had the joy of finding 4 of those tracks. This speaks of how alive that great forest is, where the great predators are at ease and therefore the chain of life that sustains them remains robust and functional.

On this monitoring visit, I decided to go through the 11-kilometer perimeter fence that we built in 2007 and that since then has kept out the free-roaming cattle of neighboring properties. Trekking this very abrupt terrain, where limestone rocks dominate and are covered with moss and leaf litter, forces me to walk a bit blindly. I can´t see the often loose rocks that slide when stepped on, having to be particularly careful. A bad blow, sprain or fracture in those latitudes would be a bad experience, because one is far from any help. And worse, eventhough we wear protective gear, I am always on the alert for rattlesnakes. And fortunately, they are extremely calm and gentle beings. Keeping that fence in good condition is of the greatest importance, as trees or branches can fall and break it. A single damaged section allows the cattle to enter and destroy many years of natural regeneration. To make the point, the populations of the two species of magnolia (Magnolia rzedowskiana and M. pedrazae) that were “discovered” in this sanctuary were barely surviving before the area was fenced, and now the young magnolias are literally counted by the hundreds. It is no exaggeration to say there is a 200% increase in species when conservation is the main priority.

The micro-endemic species which were on the verge of extinction due to the illegal logging suffered in these forests for decades have slowly returned from the edge of extinction. And that is only to report on what is obvious to my eyes. Apart from the permanent presence of pumas, jaguars, margays, ocelots and endemic and endangered chivizcoyos, cryptic species such as salamanders maintain their lares in these shady forests. So each reconnaissance tour is gratifying, even if it is to start early and finish late in the day. The presence of this and other Reserves allows us to keep human greed far away and allow life to return in stronger numbers to those protected spaces, and re-wild nature.


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Organization Information

Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P

Location: Queretaro - Mexico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SierraGorda
Project Leader:
Martha "Pati" Ruiz Corzo
Jalpan de Serra, Queretaro Mexico
$42,536 raised of $75,000 goal
624 donations
$32,464 to go
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